I reviewed Denis Minn’s chapter on Ireneaus of Lyons from the book Early Christian Thinkers: The Lives and Legacies of Twelve Key Figures edited by Paul Foster on February 29th (see here). As you can tell I am working through this book slowly, an essay at a time. Today I’d like to write on Rebecca Lyman’s contribution on Origen of Alexandria. Origen is a perplexing figure which makes him very interesting!
Lyman presents Origen as a man shaped by his debates with philosophers, rabbis, gnostics, and other Christian thinkers (p. 111). He was a well educated man who was proficient in a everything from literature to philosophy to science, text criticism, various forms of exegesis, and so forth (pp. 112-113). He was a man who was not afraid to borrow from the wisdom of the pagans. This led to trouble at times as people sometimes saw him as compromising. He seems to have walked the thin line of any Christian apologist or philosopher who seeks to discuss the Gospel in the language of the intellectuals of this world.
Origen made some great contributions to the early church. He wrote a reply to the first great intellectual assault against Christianity in his Against Celsus. He wrote the Hexpala, a work comparing various Hebrew and Greek versions of the Old Testament. He wrote an important theological work called On First Principles. Finally, he wrote a lot on Scripture, often using his famous allegorical hermeneutic.
Origen is well-known for contributing to several theological controversies. He was a supporter of a strong view of free will. He said some confusing things about the pre-existence of souls and some things that led people to think he was a universalist. Yet overall he seems (to me) to be a lot like the modern Christian intellectual whose service to the church is the pondering of various answers to various questions. Sometimes that “thinking out loud” gets people in trouble. Origen was that kind of theologian. I think I would have liked the man.